You might think, “Seen one red rock park, seen them all.” But each has a unique personality—Arches has arches (of course), Bryce Canyon has hoodoos, and Cedar Mesa has an extraordinary number of ancient ruins.
How to characterize Valley of Fire State Park? This is a park that has a bit of it all—fiery red rocks and pastel slot canyons, a few small arches, ancient petroglyphs, and an area of swirls and colorful stripes that reminded me of a giant ice cream sundae.
December Is The Perfect Time To Visit
In mid-December, we pulled into the campground (no reservations needed!), settled into our beautiful site, and enjoyed two days of exploring.
Just like we found on our visit to Death Valley National Park, December is a great time to visit Valley of Fire. The temperatures are comfortably cool and perfect for hiking. There are only a handful of designated trails in the park, which you can tackle in one long day of hiking. But there are unlimited opportunities for off-trail hiking to your heart’s content.
One of the most fun things about hiking on sandstone is that you can scramble up nearly vertical surfaces with no fear of slipping.
Hitting All The Trails In One Day
The road through the park winds through the red rock landscape, with convenient pull-offs at trailheads. We started early one morning and stopped to hike every trail. The hikes are short (1.5 to 4 miles round-trip) but rewarding, traveling through a landscape painted in soft reds, pinks, yellows, and purples. Along the way are surprises: slot canyons, small arches, and hundreds of petroglyphs left behind by ancient peoples.
A Beautiful Hike Off-Trail
Our second morning in the park, we took the advice of a park ranger who recommended hiking off-trail in canyon wash #5. There’s a small faded sign marking the wash and a pull-out for two vehicles. We had the trail to ourselves in the early morning. It was just as beautiful and colorful as he promised.
The Atlatl Campground at Valley of Fire is first-come, first-served. It’s freeing (and rare for us) not to have to make reservations ahead of time, but there’s also a bit of anxiety associated with no-reservation campgrounds. We arrived early afternoon and were fortunate to find a site, but I’d recommend getting there as early as possible. It’s one of the most beautiful campgrounds we’ve stayed in, and downright luxurious with water and electric hookups in half of the sites. The park has very nice bathhouses, an excellent visitor center, and zero Verizon coverage.
Catching Up With Friends In Boulder City, NV
Our good friends and hiking buddies Pam and John recently put down part-time roots in Boulder City and we spent a delightful couple of days hanging out with them. They showed us around cute little Boulder City, introduced us to the local bighorn sheep residents and took us on a six-mile hike up nearby Red Mountain where we enjoyed panoramic views of the town. Best of all was having time to visit and catch up, made even sweeter by the delicious berry tart that Pam surprised me with for my birthday. A very good celebration, indeed.